The 2017 animated version of Saturday Night Live’s David S. Pumpkins skit is both a sweet holiday special and a hilarious parody.
In October 2016, just weeks before the last presidential election, a silly and unpretentious sketch of the Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live went viral. “Haunted Elevator (ft. David S. Pumpkins)” introduced the world to “Halloween Santa Claus” played by a completely ridiculous Tom Hanks, surrounded by sketch creators, Mikey Day and Bobby Moynihan, playing the dancing beat boy skeletons. The decidedly apolitical skit charmed everyone, racked up millions of views on YouTube, and inspired a plethora of copy costumes as well as a Funko Pop! to his likeness. A year later, NBC brought the character back to life, this time in animated form. But The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special did not have quite the same cultural impact as “Haunted Elevator”. It’s a shame, because not only has it given us more of what we love about David S. Pumpkins, but it’s also a phenomenal shipment of holiday promotions in general.
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The original four-minute, 31-second clip is a flash of comedy in a bottle. At a time of high and petty stakes, David S. Pumpkins was the kind of simple, wacky fun that anyone could enjoy. The joke is that the couple on the ride don’t know him at all and don’t understand why he’s included among the most recognizable Halloween archetypes like ghosts, chainsaw murderers, and daughter of The ring. Asking if you’re missing a reference is a fun place to start, but it was the much-respected actor’s silly performance that took the humor to another level.
Hanks teased his return to the role in the animated special on Twitter, which got the small but dedicated David S. Pumpkins fanbase excited. However, NBC and SNL haven’t done their best to promote it. The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special does not take place on the haunted elevator. Instead, we get something that looks like a Rankin-Bass property, as rhymed by a narrator who remembers, voiced by Peter Dinklage. One of the first and funniest subversions of the Animated Holiday Special Format is that the narrator – a middle-aged version of the protagonist – is some sort of cantankerous creep who doesn’t seem to have internalized warm, fuzzy wisdom.
The story quickly returns to the first Halloween night in which suburban preteen Kevin Miller thinks he’s too old to make traps. The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special supports loss of youth and innocence in the same way that many Christmas specials deal with aging by belief in Santa Claus. It would seem too sincere if he didn’t get dark and foolish enough often to balance the sweetness.
Kevin babysits his little sister when he meets his crush, Paige, who asks him about her costume. He changes his mind on the spot, and lets slip – with unbearable insensitivity – the first thing that comes to mind: he is going to be “a little boy with the teeth of a whip”. The special is at its best when it belittles the utter, unpredictable awkwardness with which most teenagers behave. Ashamed of his attempted flirtation, he takes his sister to a pumpkin patch where he accidentally summons David S. Pumpkins and his skeletons. But first, we get to know Raincoat Man, the special replacement for any town’s urban legend, and the Ditmeyer triplets, bike tyrants (the one with frosty spikes) who torment Kevin for being so uncool.
When Kevin summons David S. Pumpkins by choosing the ugliest pumpkin from the patch (in an obvious reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas), we get a retreading of the sketch material. Kevin asks, “is that a known thing?” and David S. Pumpkins responds (but not really) in song. The fairly simplistic animation is an incredibly close match to Hanks, Day, and Moynihan, thanks to their dance moves and overstated facial expressions, which makes the sketch and feel of a room special.
Before David S. Pumpkins has to return to the kingdom he came from – at 10:34 pm precisely – he unwittingly foils Ditmeyer’s plot to steal Kevin’s candy and teaches him a valuable lesson. Kevin is extremely worried about making fun of him, but before the night is over he concludes that Halloween is not about believing in witches or monsters, but believing in yourself. That’s when David S. Pumpkins steps in and puts it right; he states that Halloween is all about candy (and raisins are gross). The self-confidence Kevin found along the way was purely coincidental. When Kevin’s little sister asks if they’ll ever see him again, Pumpkins says no, without any emotion.
The Halloween Special David S. Pumpkins, like many of SNL’s most successful tracks, is full of highly random humor and observation. The Pumpkinmobile is a strawberry. The suit David S. Pumpkins makes for Kevin is that of Carl Branley, an unknown businessman. He notices other people’s houses smell weird, and the scariest thing about him is that it takes too long to start singing. What makes it an underrated masterpiece is that it can be enjoyed both as an absurd parody and the very thing he parodies: a half-hour animated holiday classic about the magic and chaos of growth that can be revisited year after year.
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